Farewell but not goodbye

In a way, today marks my “farewell” to the world of public relations (PR) and communications after 15 years in roles at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. But in another way, as I prepare to begin a new challenge as a Chief Executive, it doesn’t. Because I view excellent communication as a pre-requisite skill for any organisational leader nowadays. And it was the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) Diploma course that set me on this journey.

If there is one thing that stuck with me from my CIPR Diploma, it was the importance of PR as a management function, which should be central to organisational strategy. It’s the senior communications practitioner in an organisation who is best placed to assess executive values, priorities and decisions, and advise on how those decisions will be received in the real world – the organisation’s “conscience”, if you like.

Applying that concept to our work, how many times as a communicator have you cursed your leader for bringing you in to sweep up the mess after a bad decision backfired, instead of asking for your advice beforehand? Or asked to put a positive “spin” on management behaviour that was wrong all along? A great quote I once saw was: “You can’t talk your way out of what you’ve behaved yourself into.”

Every profession needs specialists in all its functions and, certainly, PR needs to keep demonstrating excellence in story-telling, creativity, media management and handling crises. But over the years I have become occasionally frustrated that I see too much of PR practitioners navel-gazing over some of the technical sides of our role and not enough scrutiny of what it will take for us to become more respected and valued for our strategic input.

Why is it that it would seem perfectly natural for someone from a finance, planning or HR background to become a CEO, but it doesn’t yet for a comms professional to do so? For sure, the answer lies partly in how others view us. But, equally, we need to reflect both on how we present ourselves and our actual career aspirations.

After years spent advising leaders, to varying degrees of success, I’ve taken the view that one way to make sure my world view of decision-making is adopted is to become a leader myself. I’d like to see more public relations and communications practitioners do the same.

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